Facilities Arms Race Rages On
Alabama might finally have the infusion it needs to rejoin the nation’s elite programs.
For the past decade, many programs around the Southeastern Conference, and other competition around the country, made significant facility improvements that made them more competitive on the national landscape. Ole Miss, LSU and Vanderbilt, all primary competition on the recruiting trail in the region, made impressive commitments from a facilities standpoint, the Rebels essentially re-doing Oxford-University Stadium, while LSU built a brand new ballpark. Other teams in the conference have emulated those projects with Texas A&M re-doing its ballpark, South Carolina building a beautiful ballpark, and Georgia and Tennessee both undergoing sizable renovation projects.
During that time, the University of Alabama essentially was doing the bare minimum from a facilities standpoint. Sure, the Crimson Tide built new locker rooms and such back in 2010, but the stadium, for the most part, was very outdated and lacked premium amenities that many fans, and of course recruits, desire these days.
After aggressive fundraising over the past few years, and a renewed commitment from the Alabama administration, those issues are no more, as the Crimson Tide is nearing completion of a sprawling and impressive $42.6 million project that includes re-doing Sewell-Thomas Stadium, building new batting cages, building an outfield playground/family area, among other amenities.
“The opening of the new Sewell-Thomas stadium is influencing the future of Alabama baseball in more ways than one. Now, Sewell Thomas will be mentioned in the same breath as the other top facilities across the country,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “This commitment from our administration has provided a new energy for our program that is impacting recruiting, fan excitement along with our current team and, now, the student body.
The renovated Sewell-Thomas is scheduled, for now, to be completed by the end of the year, though inclement weather the next few months could push that date back a week or two. However, there’s no doubt at this point the Crimson Tide will open the 2016 season at home against Maryland in a brand new ballpark.
Though no facility guarantees success, the facilities movement around college baseball, and especially the southern states, is further evidence of where the sport is headed — in a way, the big business way. And instead of sitting idle while other continues to improve, Alabama, which has made postseason appearances in four of the last six seasons, hopes to not only make that an every year occurrence, but also get back to the College World Series for the first time since 1999.
Alabama’s renovation campaign leads our look at some of the facility projects out there in college baseball today.
• Ball State is in the midst of a slew of renovations around its athletics department, a project totaling over $20 million. With that, the baseball park is being renovated as well. The Cardinals clearly don’t need to expand the stadium, but some solid amenities are being added to the existing structure, including a new team meeting room, a new press box, new dugouts, a new grandstand, now concession stands and improved landscaping around the ballpark. Rich Maloney has spent the past two seasons with the program.
• Cal Poly has made some strides as a program the past few seasons, and coach Larry Lee and his coaching staff will get a boost and have one of the top facilities on the West Coast with the latest additions, projected to be completed Fall 2017. The Mustangs will spend a total of $6 million renovating Baggett Stadium. The renovations will include a two-story clubhouse with a revamped locker room, a new training and therapy center, a new players lounge, a conference room, and a stadium capacity increase to between 3,250-3,500 spectators.
• Central Michigan is yet another Midwest program looking to upgrade its facilities. The Chippewas have raised $1 million, $500,000 of that anonymously, to help construct a new state-of-the-art indoor training facility. The Chips have made some notable improvements to their stadium over the past few years, and this is yet another addition.
• Clemson is nearing completion of an impressive-looking renovation project, something that first-year coach Monte Lee will take advantage of moving forward. The Tigers are constructing a three-story building behind the first-base dugout that includes a new clubhouse, coaches offices and a new player lounge, among other amenities. Clemson also added more premium seating options behind home plate.
— Clemson Baseball (@ClemsonBaseball) September 15, 2015
• Georgia underwent some enormous renovations before last season, adding club seating, suites, a new locker room, new chair-back seating, and much more at Foley Field. However, as the facilities twitter account acknowledged last week, the Bulldogs have some additional amenities after the past summer.
— UGA FACILITIES (@UGAFACILITIES) September 25, 2015
• Houston has experienced consistent success the past couple of seasons, especially last year, as the Cougars hosted an NCAA Regional despite suffering some serious setback son the mound. With that said, the Cougars are looking to take that next step as a program, both on the field, and when it comes to their facility. The Cougars recently installed Musco LED lighting at Cougar Field, and also are in the process of building a new scoreboard that is believed to be the largest on-campus video board in college baseball. The Cougars also are slated to build a new clubhouse that is expected to cost, total project-wise, between $6-8 million.
• Iowa has had a few changes over the past few seasons. In addition to coach Rick Heller and his coaching staff leading the program to the NCAA tournament, they also continue to make renovations to Duane Banks Field. The Hawkeyes installed an all-turf infield before the 2014 season, while finishing the project with the outfield prior to the 2015 campaign. UI also installed padding around the outfield and down the foul lines, while a scoreboard with video capability was installed, along with renovations to the batting cages for both the home and visiting teams. Phase III of the project calls for the addition of a new grandstand, which will come when the Hawkeyes can find a lead donor.
• Louisiana Tech hopes to get some momentum for the Greg Goff era going into the 2016 campaign, and they will have a new field to play on to do so. The Bulldogs will begin installing a new all-turf field on Nov. 1, which will allow the program to use the field year-around in almost any weather condition.
• Maryland is set to do some renovations to its home of 63 years, Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium. The stadium previously had a synthetic turf infield with an all-grass outfield. However, the Terps will make the field all synthetic turf. The Terps also are slated to build new, all-turf bullpens for visiting teams and themselves, while they also will re-do the outfield wall, while also increasing the distance from home plate.
• Miami (OH) has joined the facilities craze over the past two years, and the Redhawks have constructed a new 10,000 square foot facility that will house new locker rooms, coaches offices, training facilities and include many more amenities with a total price tag of $3 million.
• Michigan State has one of the more interesting renovation projections going on this summer. The Spartans made a strong commitment to the program a few years ago with a massive stadium renovation, thanks in part to a $4 million gift by Drayton McLane and the generosity of others. Now, the Spartans are in the process of adding a heated infield, thanks to a company called Heating Solutions International (HSI) out of The Netherlands. HSI currently has its product installed in several professional soccer venues in Europe, but the project in East Lansing is the company’s first in the United States.
• Nicholls State broke ground earlier this week on a sparkling new $5 million renovation project to Ray E. Didier Field. The Colonels’ renovations will include a modernized press box with a hospitality suite, new concession stands, new batting cages, a new entrance to the stadium, and of course, a new clubhouse with a locker room and coaches offices.
• Northwestern embarked on a coaching search this past summer and hired Illinois assistant coach Spencer Allen. While that addition is exciting, the Wildcats are even more excited about the renovations to their ballpark, the first since 1983 for a structure built back in 1943. In addition to an all-turf field that was installed before last season, the Wildcats are in the midst of a $15 million project that includes a new grand stand, press box, team lounge and locker room, among other impressive amenities.
• Oregon State is one of college baseball’s perennial powers, and continues to be in the midst of the facilities arms race around the country. The Beavers completed a new locker room facility earlier this year, thanks in part to a $1 million gift from alum Jacoby Ellsbury on a project that totaled $3 million. The Beavers will also re-do their “Omaha room”, while also adding a party deck on the other side of Goss Stadium.
• Portland is one of several mid-major programs that continues to invest heavily into its program. The Pilots made a coaching change and have Geoff Loomis and a talented staff now in place, while some serious facilities renovations are underway. Portland is spending $2 million to add a new surface, lighting, fencing and new bullpens, while it will spend another $1.2 million for a new press box, 500 additional seats (via berm seating), dugouts and much more.
• Sam Houston State is one of several mid-major programs around the country progressive in the facilities department. The Bearkats made major waves in 2006 when they built $5.5 million Don Sanders Stadium, which to this day, remains one of the better mid-major parks in the region. The Bearkats announced this week they will, as with many other programs, move to an all AstroTurf field, hoping to have the ability to host more camps in Huntsville, Texas, moving forward.
• TCU is one of the nation’s premier programs, and the Frogs are hot on the renovation trail this summer. The Frogs secured $7.5 million in funding for a new set of amenities at Lupton Stadium. Of those, the Frogs are construction a new locker room, classroom, team lounge, sports medicine center, equipment room and coaches offices. The Frogs also are expected to have a new video board in time for the start of the 2016 campaign.
• UNLV is in the midst of some facility upgrades. The Rebels raised $2.75 million to construct a new clubhouse. The two-story complex will include 10,000 square feet and include coaches offices, players lounge, an academic area, a new locker room and other training areas. The facility will also include two indoor batting cages, a weight room and conditioning areas, and a party deck sits atop the new clubhouse building.
• Wake Forest made waves a few years ago when it underwent some massive renovations in its new home ballpark, formerly a minor league ballpark. The Demon Deacons are back on the facilities train this week, as they’ve announced plans to build a $14 million and 41,000-square foot player development facility. The new facility will include a new locker room, lounge area, training room, equipment room, video conference rooms, more meeting rooms, a full kitchen, coaches’ offices, space for former players and indoor batting cages, among other amenities. The Deacs also will renovate and relocate the home dugout and bullpen, while they will construct a state-of-the-art pitching laboratory.
• Vanderbilt announced plans earlier this summer to do $10 million more in renovations to Hawkins Field. The Commodores have already done a number of impressive renovations the past few seasons, but this is icing on the cake for Tim Corbin’s program. Our Aaron Fitt has a story detailing this renovation.
• Virginia is fresh off its first national title in program history, and as usual, coach Brian O’Connor is looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do better. The Cavaliers, as part of an athletics facilities master plan, unveiled a proposed $12 million facelift to Davenport Field. The Cavaliers would add an additional 1,200-1,500 to to the existing structure, while also adding luxury boxes down the first-base line, club-level seating and a lounge. The Cavaliers also want to add more restrooms and concessions, along with batting cages and other amenities. The Hoos also would like to replace the wooden bleachers with chair-back seating. A final tally on this project is pending, but the wheels are in motion.